City Guide


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Royal Palace, Phnom Penh
Royal Palace, Phnom Penh © Paul Arps
Legend has it that the city of Phnom Penh, the exotic 'Pearl of the Orient', was founded in 1372 by a local widow named Penh. It is said that she discovered four Buddha statues that had been washed up by the waters from the Mekong River and erected a temple on the hill to house them, believing that their arrival was a sign of great luck and prosperity to come. And so the city grew around this structure, becoming known as the Hill of Penh (Phnom Penh).

Considered to be the loveliest of Indochina's French-built cities in its heyday, this rather untidy capital sprawls at the confluence of the Mekong, Bassac and Tonlé Sap Rivers. Now, the colonial charm has been somewhat drowned out by modern concrete buildings and heavy traffic, but upon investigation intriguing traces of the Khmer and French eras can still be found in the details. The heart of the city, where old French villas and street-side cafes perch along tree-lined boulevards and the occasional majestic Khmer building catches the eye, is very appealing.

Phnom Penh boasts a number of Wats (temple-monasteries), museums and other places of interest for tourists, as well as sunset cruises on the Mekong and Tonlé Sap Rivers, and a bustling market place. The city is known for having a fun nightlife, with a proliferation of cheap and cheerful bars. The cafe culture and tasty Cambodian cuisine also ensure that foodies are well-catered for. There has been a recent boom in development, with new hotels, restaurants, bars and nightclubs springing up to cater for Cambodia's growing popularity with travellers, and the city is increasingly seen as a worthy travel destination in itself rather than just the most convenient entry point for a Cambodian holiday.

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